A Circle of Friends:
Ward Ritchie, Lawrence Clark Powell, and Gloria Stuart
Curated by Henry Snyder, BCC Librarian
Exhibition Opening: Monday, January 26, 5-7 p.m.
This exhibition celebrates the work of three creative individuals from Southern California—and their friendships, talents, collaborations, and shared passion for books and fine printing.
Harry “Ward” Ritchie (1905-1996) was one of the most important and prolific printers and designers of Southern California in the twentieth century, and a key figure in the region’s “Golden Age” of fine printing. In addition to producing hundreds of books over the course of his distinguished career, he was a lecturer, bibliophile, poet, and historian of the press in his region. In 1932, he founded the Ward Ritchie Press in Los Angeles, which featured keepsakes, limited editions, cookbooks, and books about local history or Western Americana. His distinguished design work includes a 1934 edition of A Gil Blas in California by Alexandre Dumas (on view in the exhibition), which was published by bookseller Jake Zeitlin’s Primavera Press, illustrated by Paul Landacre, and printed by Saul Marks at the Plantin Press, and which the American Institute of Graphic Arts recognized as one of the “Fifty Books of the Year.” The Ward Ritchie Press eventually expanded to become Anderson, Ritchie, and Simon, and though its output was primarily commercial, the work remained notable for its style and finish. In 1976, Ritchie retired from the firm, bought an Albion hand press, and moved to Laguna Beach, where he produced some of his best pieces under the Laguna Verde Imprenta.
Lawrence Clark Powell (1906-2001), librarian, raconteur, novelist, and literary critic, was as respected and famous in his sphere as Ritchie was in his. The two were middle school classmates, attended Occidental College together, and remained close friends and collaborators all their lives. Ritchie published, introduced, and designed Powell’s work (beginning in the middle school newspaper Ritchie founded), and Powell reciprocated by contributing to Ritchie’s publications. Other friends in their circle included Robinson Jeffers (Powell’s Ph.D. thesis was the book Robinson Jeffers: The Man and His Work; one of Ritchie’s earliest publications was Jeffers’ poems Stars, 1930), M.F.K. Fisher, Saul Marks, Jake Zeitlin, Paul Landacre, the bookseller Glen Dawson, the printer Vince Gerry, the bookbinder Joe D’Ambrosio, and the publisher George Macy—but the core was always Ritchie, Powell, and their wives.
In later years, there was one more notable addition—the actor and artist Gloria Stuart (1910-2010). Stuart’s first husband, the sculptor Blair Gordon Newell, was Ritchie’s college fraternity brother, and the couple was close with Ritchie and his then-wife Janet in their youth. In 1981, both widowed, Stuart and Ritchie renewed their friendship and developed a loving and romantic relationship that lasted until Ritchie’s death. At the age of seventy-two Stuart learned the mechanics of printing from Ritchie and quickly developed a reputation in her own right as a book artist and printer. She continued to produce books until the ripe age of one hundred under the imprint Imprenta Glorias.
The Ward Ritchie collection featured in this exhibition made its way to the Book Club via another friend of the group—the designer, bibliophile, and Club’s longtime librarian Albert Sperisen (1909-1999). He was art director and later vice president of the advertising firm, Foote, Cone & Belding, where Ritchie worked briefly in the 1940s. During his years at the Book Club, Sperisen acquired works from Ritchie, Powell, and Stuart for the library—one of the last exhibitions he curated for the Club was of the work of Gloria Stuart, who called Sperisen a “boon companion” and “true friend.” Eventually, Sperisen’s close friend and successor as Book Club librarian, Barbara Jane Land (1945-2013) acquired and augmented the collection, and her sisters have now generously donated it to the Book Club. The Club is exceedingly grateful for the gift and the opportunity to share selections from it in this stunning exhibition.
Free and open to the public during Book Club hours, Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.